The first installation of electric lights in a US Navy warship
took place during the summer of 1883. Earlier that spring, seven
electric power companies were asked by the Bureau of Navigation
to submit bids for installing lights in USS Trenton, then
currently berthed at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Only
one, the Edison Company for Isolated Lighting, submitted a bid
of $5,500 to install one L dynamo & one Armington-Sims engine
complete to supply light via insulated wiring to 104 16-candle
power lamps, 130 10-candle power lamps, and 4 32-candle power
lamps. The ensuing contract also included 238 key sockets, 6 extra
brushes, 1 automatic regulator and 1 dynamo foundation. Lieutenant.Commander.
R. B. Bradford, executive officer of the ship, oversaw the installation
of this equipment in Trenton between 7 June and 21 August
1883. Owing to the need to maintain the engine and dynamo, the
system was only run at night.
Other than minor wiring problems, the initial trial during Trenton's service on the Asiatic Station was a success and in 1884 the Bureau of Navigation decided to light Atlanta, Boston and Omaha. The plant for these ships were supplied, respectively, by the U.S. Electric Lighting Company of New York, the Brush Electric Company of Cleveland, and the Consolidated Electric Light Company of New York.
In 1886, the Bureau of Navigation reported that "[t]his method of lighting ships of war, owing to the small amount of heat given off, the absence of disagreeable odors, and the more perfect illumination, adds much to the health and comfort of the officers and men, tends to make them contented and happy during their long absences from home and friends, promotes discipline and prevents crime."
Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the Year 1883. vol.1 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1883): 244
Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the Year 1884. vol.1 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office 1884): 137.
Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the Year 1886. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1886): 152.
Thompson, Edgar K. "The First Light." US Naval Institute Proceedings 80, no.12 (Dec. 1954): 1390-91.